“Notts County have today parted company with first-team manager…”
These must be the most typed set of consecutive words on Notts County Football Club computers.
Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, or your electric car didn’t notify you of the news, then Notts County – at the time of writing – do not have a manager. Harry Kewell has been sacked. After 75 days, Mr Hardy has pulled the trigger. The man who could’ve been given a five year deal, has been given the old Spanish archer 10 weeks into the three year contract he was ultimately given.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, the stats;
Played 15. Won 3. Drew 4. Lost 8. Scored 16. Conceded 31.
So, where did it all go wrong for Kewell? For starters, things didn’t get off to the best of starts. After a 3-1 defeat at home to Forest Green Rovers, in which Kewell decided to sit in the stands for and allow Mark Crossley to preside over a ‘free hit’ – what a fucking nonsense statement that is – a strong side lobbed away a 1-0 lead in the Checkatrade and then went to Exeter to find themselves on the end of a 5-1 pumping. We were told from various outlets that Kewell was an attacking, progressive sort of manager and that bit him on the arse a bit away at Exeter. 69 minutes. 3-1 down. Change of system, three at the back. 5-1. Panning. It seemed an afternoon where damage limitation would be necessary in that moment. I’m all for trying to win football games and being positive but at times you have to play the situation. Much like we saw post the 8-1 at Swansea, hammerings drain confidence. You have to ask how much good that does a week in to things.
From that point, Kewell started to pick up points. 11 from a possible 15 to be exact. Two draws and three wins in a week. Through this period, there was a noticeable difference. Notts essentially looked like they did when Kevin Nolan first came in. Kewell deployed two deeper lying midfielders who sat in and it started to look better. Probably the highlight of Kewell’s Notts tenure, tactically, came at half time at home to Crewe. Notts switched from 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1, with Kane Hemmings on the right and Lewis Alessandra in the hole behind Jon Stead and Notts looked pretty decent. They controlled the game, got the goal and claimed Kewell his first three points. He rightfully took all the credit that day. He spotted the issues, changed it up and snatched the points. Delightful.
For the next two games, 4-2-3-1 did the trick and led to six more points. A convincing 3-1 at home to Kewell’s old club Crawley was followed up by a less than convincing and not hugely, in my opinion, deserved 1-0 win away to Macclesfield. Notts were cut open through the middle with ease by the leagues bottom side and with a touch more quality in front of goal, they’d have been 3-0 up before Stead converted a late penalty. Whilst a week earlier had seen Kewell’s biggest tactical triumph, Macclesfield away saw maybe his oddest tactical decision; Shaun Brisley filling in for the suspended Rob Milsom in central midfield. Two moments really stood out for me on that selection. Brisley’s first touch saw him hammer a loose ball out of play and in the second half he met a Macclesfield clearance about 20 yards out and essentially tackled the bouncing ball into the Notts fans behind the goal. But, in fairness to Kewell, it worked. Like I’ve said, we were by no means tremendous against Macclesfield, much the opposite, but Notts took home all three points.
Wins wise, that was that for Kewell. A week in the sun that culminated at Moss Rose. Spectacular. A few days after, a fair percentage of the bomb squad were humbled by Newcastle’s Academy in that God awful ‘competition’. Notts didn’t play for 11 days after that due to Oldham at home being postponed due to international call ups. Had the momentum gone? Or was it a chance to work things through on the training ground and go again? Sadly for Kewell, it was the former. Notts went to Bury away and were pumped. All reports were nothing but atrocious and spirits were not high with MK Dons away looming. But, semi-miraculously, up until the hour mark Notts looked okayish for their 1-0 lead through Lewis Alessandra. By no means were they in total control, MK Dons looked dangerous and looked a threat, but Notts held their own. That hour mark then saw the whole game swing. Jamie Turley was shown a swiftly rescinded after the show red card, Chuks Aneke stuck the resulting penalty home and 9 minutes it was 2-1. Good night. No return. Safe trip back everyone.
For me, the biggest frustration about that night was not the red card, but Notts’ lack of cutting edge. We should’ve been out of sight and 3-0 up by then. But again we squandered good chances and wasted good positions in the final third. The decision to send Turley off was a poor one, granted, but you absolutely have to look after everything you as a side can and taking chances is a fundamental part of that. If we take those chances, or make better decisions, that decision would’ve been inconsequential. From that point on there was only one more point for Kewell to claim. Frustratingly it was a point snatched from the jaws of three as even a team filled with five defenders – one brought on a sub by Kewell to supplement the four that started – managed to concede on 89 after taking the lead on 87.
The final two games for Kewell signaled the end. The rearranged Oldham game saw Notts totally outplayed by another side in a desperate run of form. We were absolutely shit. No spark, no imagination, no idea and certainly no ‘philosophy’. To compound things on that cold Meadow Lane night, the much talked about substitution occurred. Kristian Dennis for Richard Duffy. The change that left us with no recognised striker on the pitch with 30 minutes to go, at home, to a team who hadn’t won in five. I’ve never heard a substitution met with such anger. I think most would’ve taken a point up until then. But all of a sudden, it felt like that change had to work. We needed to win to justify it. We didn’t. It never was justified. Fans started to turn.
Kewell’s final act was to preside over another pumping. 4-0 in the cup after being 0-0 at half time. From all reports it was a complete capitulation. The highlights don’t show much of anything from his boys in blue after about 20 mintutes and to add insult to injury, his post match was an absolute piss take. His words seemed completely disconnected with what had been seen and been seen in games gone by and he certainly didn’t sound like he had his finger on the pulse of the fan base. He cited frustration but for a large portion of the faithful, it had gone beyond that.
As previously mentioned, Kewell was presented to us as an inspiring coach type who would sort out our issues but ultimately this let him down. In the opening few games it was a clear case of too much change too quickly. The Crewe half time change was a clear success and the switch to 4-2-3-1 worked for a time. When it was found out, Notts were lacking. Lacking in ideas, in style and in philosophy. I can accept teams being better than us, but I cannot expect a Notts team who do not look like they have an idea of how to get from one end to the pitch to the other. All this rhetoric about style and philosophy, where was it? If you can see what they’re trying to do and it doesn’t work all the time then I can accept mistakes. Absolutely I can. But I saw little to convince me we had a style. The clear counter argument to this is was Kewell given enough time? It’s an argument I can see. Is 10 weeks enough time? On the face of it, no. But when you see it and live it, week in week out, there were serious issues with Kewell.
As well as his tactical shortcomings, it seems he never got a real hold on his squad. His last few benches contained a goal keeper, four defenders, Terry Hawkridge and Kion Etete, a 16 year old striker. To say we have a huge squad, this cannot be right. As with any sacking nowadays, a few stories are starting to circulate about Kewell falling out with players, making some train with the youth team. Whilst I imagine 95% of these are complete bollocks, to have so many recognised first team players nowhere near the action, you have to wonder about the man management skills. Why can’t he get serviceable performances out of seasoned pro’s, such as David Vaughan, or players who are clearly quite gifted, Noor Husin, whilst he’s allowing Nathan Thomas to wobble around and steal a living?
Added to the time aspect, many have cited the fact Kewell hasn’t had a transfer window. Again, completely true. He hasn’t. But, he did make four signings who he has played pretty religiously since he was appointed. Three of these he’s worked with before in Jamie Turley, Cedric Evina and Rob Milsom so whilst these are free agents and loanees, these are not wildcard picks. Kewell knows plenty about them. For Elliot Ward, we’ll have no idea how much Kewell knows about him, but he’s not a footballing nobody. He’s a seasoned pro. A safe bet. So whilst Kewell didn’t have a transfer window, the signings he’s made and played have not improved us. Do not be fooled by them being frees and loans. These are not nobody’s. I cannot accept for one moment the idea some fans have pedaled that Kewell’s signings are not his responsibility because of the circumstances in which they are signed. That is a nonsense. He also didn’t walk into a poor squad. I still do not think we have a poor squad. At the end of pre season the majority of Notts fans were fawning the assembled squad and I think with a couple of additions we’ll look more balanced. It’s clear what we need.
What normally comes out of a sacking, but hasn’t surfaced a huge deal with this one, is the idea that the players have let the manager down. I do not subscribe to the idea that players don’t try, on the most part. The vast, vast majority of footballers do try and do give what they can. Some, frankly, are shit. Some cannot cope with the level they’re asked to play at in the football pyramid. That’s not their fault. Like I’ve said, we’ve got a decent squad with good players. What we never had under Kewell was an identity. You couldn’t put your finger on what Notts were ever trying to do. The midfield three in the last few weeks have played with 15 yards of space between their lines. What are they meant to do when two passes can completely turn all three of them around? In turn, the back four are being put under sustained pressure for decent periods in games because the midfield is totally out of the game. Kristian Dennis has had a run in the side recently. How is he meant to have any impact when the balls being wanged back to front and 10 yards over his head? He’s not going to. That’s simple. I can accept things not working when you can see what they’re trying to do. But under Kewell I could not identify what they were trying to do.
All in all, it’s been a whirlwind 24 hours and it will probably turn out to be a whirlwind next 48-72 hours too with the prospect of a new manager in the door before Saturday. The man charged with this decision has to take credit for the Kewell decision. Mr Hardy has had his issues since he’s been here and I’ve no doubt there’ll be more to come, but I think he has to be applauded for taking what he perceives to be an issue and sorting it. Especially when you add in the financial implications of the sacking too. He was always going to get stick, mainly from those outside of the club looking in due to the 10 week time period of Kewell’s tenure, but I think many Notts fans, me included, can get onboard with this decision. Now it’s time to get the next one right. That is crucial.